Although the Carolina Panthers own one of the best records in the NFL, their first seven games have been anything but easy.
The surprising Panthers look to keep winning when they face former coach Dom Capers and the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.
The Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints 23-20 last week on John Kasay’s 31-yard field goal in overtime, becoming the first team in league history to win three road games in extra time in the same season.
Kasay, 17-for-17 on field goal attempts, became the second kicker in history to hit three game-winners in overtime in a season.
“Any time you can go on the road in this league and win, it’s a feather in your cap, especially in overtime when it’s not looking really good for you,” coach John Fox said. “Our guys just kept swinging, and we were able to have that short kick at the end.”
Davis tied Anthony Johnson’s 1996 team record with his fifth 100-yard performance, and is on pace to easily break Johnson’s franchise mark of 1,120 yards in a season. Davis has rushed for 839 yards on 163 carries.
“We had one game where we got taken out of (our running game) because we fell behind early,” Fox said. “Today the game plan was to give them a heavy dose of Stephen. He started fast and finished fast.”
Minutes after defensive end Julius Peppers forced a fumble on New Orleans’ opening drive in overtime, Davis had a 34-yard run that led to Kasay’s winning kick.
“That was it. The game was on the line,” said Peppers, who has just two sacks after recording 12 last season. “You just have to dig deep, and all I did was make a play.
“I’m still here, I am doing the same things I did last year, I know the numbers aren’t there, but I am coming around.”
The Panthers rank second in the NFL with 161 rushing yards per game. That should be a huge factor against the Texans, who allow 117 rushing yards per game, 20th in the league.
Houston has other problems besides stopping the run, with starting quarterback David Carr probably out with an injured right ankle.
“David did more light jogging. You can see his ankle has improved,” said Capers, who coached the Panthers from 1995-98. “I would say we probably would not have him be the third quarterback on Sunday.”
Carr, who took every snap last season despite being sacked an NFL-record 76 times, was hurt in the first quarter of last week’s 30-21 loss to Indianapolis. He returned to the game after sitting out two series and led the team on a 79-yard touchdown drive, but didn’t play again after the score.
Capers is facing his former team for the first time. In 1995, he guided the Panthers to a 7-9 mark, setting a record for most victories by an expansion team and earning AP Coach of the Year honors.
The following season, he led the team to the NFC championship game, where Carolina lost to Green Bay at Lambeau Field.
However, after the Panthers went 7-9 in 1997 and 4-12 in 1998, Capers was fired and became Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator just six weeks later.
Last season, he led the Texans to a 4-12 mark in their inaugural season, tying the 1995 Jaguars for the second-most wins by an expansion club.
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